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Curtain to rise soon on new theater

Dennis Caltagirone should be a happy man. After four years, the new Springstead Theater is about to receive its final dab of putty, its last electrical wire, its finishing touch of paint.

Dennis Caltagirone would like to be happy.

But after four years of weaning, coaxing and shepherding his six-story dream to completion, he just doesn't have the energy to celebrate.

"Everybody says I should be happy," said the 46-year-old Springstead High drama teacher.

"I'm too damn tired to be happy."

That, mind you, is a drama teacher talking.

In actual fact, it's not hard to believe that sometime soon Dennis Caltagirone will quietly steal into the cavernous backstage _ with its 12 scenery-hanging battens, its 53-foot proscenium and its 94 stage lights _ and break into cartwheels of joy.

Dennis Caltagirone's theater has been a long time coming.

Four years ago, Caltagirone said School Board member Donald Hensley told him it would be 20 years before there would be an auditorium at the high School, which was built in 1975.

"I was incredibly depressed at that news," Caltagirone recalled.

He set out to prove Hensley wrong.

With a $300,000 state grant, $15,000 in donated funds, and the remainder from voter-approved school bond money, ground on the $2.2-million project was broken some 10 months ago.

It was not going to be your basic high school auditorium.

Although the theater's first priority is to Springstead High, Caltagirone also wanted a place that could satisfy the technical requirements for touring Broadway groups, the Florida Orchestra, national dance companies _ anyone, in fact, whom the community wanted to invite.

The new theater, on Mariner Boulevard across the street from Springstead High, is a tall building, possible the tallest in the county. You can see its brick siding rising above the surrounding trees long before you reach the school.

Designed by architect Ronald Lang of Tampa's Harvard, Jolly, Marcet & Associates, the theater has what Caltagirone says is the best, most sophisticated stage anywhere between Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and the Ocala Civic Theater.

"This stage allows you to really put on more of a performance," Lang said.

The proscenium, that part of the stage which is in front of the curtain, is more than 17 yards long. The overall stage is large enough to hold a symphony orchestra.

There are 23 battens, the long horizontal poles that hang from the stage house ceiling which raise and lower curtains, stage sets and lights.

Stage designers use one of three systems for moving battens up and down. The Springstead Theater has the most sophisticated, a so-called counter-weighted batten system that uses 13,000 pounds of bar-shaped weights to work.

There are 94 lights now; Caltagirone wants to add another 60.

And 107 electrical conduits run between the stage and the light box. "At least 107," said John Timoney, owner of New Port Richey-based Connect Electric Systems, adding that his crews have been working seven days a week to finish by Tuesday's opening.

Donated money will pay for the $13,000 cost of the computerized ticket booking system. But Caltagirone still needs to raise about another $100,000 to pay for what is missing: an electronic marquee, smoke and fog machines, the additional lights.

Although the theater's acoustical properties won't really be known until opening night, Lang, with the help of an acoustical design consultant from Boston, has designed the building to maximize hearing from all seats.

Because the two side walls are not parallel to each other, sound bounces off them toward the back wall, where absorptive acoustical panels reduce any possible echo. The ceiling is made of reflective panels and is sloped in the rear to throw sound back to the audience.

Budgetary problems prevented more seats from being added, but Lang said theaters with similar sized stages often hold anywhere from 800 to 1,200 people. "You certainly could have put a lot more seats there," he said.

The emphasis, however, "has always been based on what it will take to put on a performance and do it right."

Although the concrete-terraced entrance, which includes eight blue-tiled columns, is designed to give the large building a more intimate feel, the lobby is not flashy and the restrooms are simple. ""We had a very, very tight budget ... (and) it's all focused on the stage," Lang said.

After Tuesday's ceremony, a weeklong series of opening events starts in exactly four weeks, culminating with the theater's formal black-tie opening on Dec. 1.

"It's a lovely house" said Caltagirone. "It's been built with class."